A couple of nights ago I went to see Disney’s Maleficent with my girl. This is one of very few movies aimed at women that I wanted to see. I knew that I probably wouldn’t like the story, but that I likely would like looking at Angelina Jolie, as well as the pretty awesome visual effects.
And of course I didn’t like the story. But it was for a reason that I didn’t expect and admittedly should have.
I’ve criticized fairy tales for a long, long time. I’ve always thought that they communicated unrealistic things to little girls–that message being if girls waited patiently enough, their Prince Charming would one day come to rescue them.
Fairy tales are powerful, and that message speaks to the very core of femininity: the need to feel safe and secure. Hence that message has lived on for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
I am also the father of a six-year-old girl, and we’ve watched lots of children’s movies together. While I’ve been prepared to tell her that Prince Charming is as real as Mickey Mouse, the current trend of movies is going to have me eventually persuading her that Prince Charming is even necessary. We’ve gone from “every woman will find their prince” to “women don’t need princes” very, very quickly.
For the uninitiated, “Maleficent” tells the story of “Sleeping Beauty” from the villain’s point of view. Taking a cue from the wildly successful Broadway hit, “Wicked,” the audience discovers that they were never told the *real* story.
While Wicked’s plot is all over the place (we are supposed to like the villian because she gets made fun of because she’s green and there’s a plot by the Wizard of Oz to remove animal’s voices that is never resolved [or even explained] but is supposed to make us feel a Greenpeace like sympathy for the Wicked Witch of the West), Maleficent’s story is fairly tight. Maleficent was wronged by her true love, a man who wanted to become king, when he drugged her and clipped her wings to become king. Maleficent gets her revenge by cursing the king’s daughter (Sleeping Beauty) to fall into a deep sleep on her 16th birthday. The king sends his daughter away to be raised by fairies while Maleficent basically oversees Sleeping Beauty’s rearing.
The moment that Aurora falls into her slumber due to the curse Maleficent put upon her, a curse that can only be broken by true love’s kiss, I turned to my girl and rightfully predicted whose kiss would awaken Sleeping Beauty. And I’ll give you a hint: the kisser doesn’t have a penis.
How did I predict this? Because I saw a similar movie late last year, Disney’s “Frozen”. Frozen had a similar trope, and when you start to dissect that film’s themes and compare to Maleficent, there’s a consistent message.
In both Maleficent and Frozen, men are not only secondary characters, but the majority of them are not trustworthy and are either evil or insane. Men are ambitious and want power no matter what the cost or who they hurt. Girls, on the other hand, can do anything they want without the need of men.
In Maleficent, it’s men who are evil and paranoid, uncaring about their daughters and wives. Women, be it fairies or otherwise, are innocent, nurturing creatures wronged by or trapped by men at every turn. There is a man who is at Maleficent’s side who is portrayed favorably, but that man was actually a crow that Maleficent turned into a man. He certainly was not born that way.
One of the first movies I ever watched with my daughter was “Tinkerbell and The Lost Treasure.” In this movie, Tinkerbell is tasked to build a scepter with a sacred moonstone, her friend/boyfriend Terrence helps her (but won’t break rules for her), she becomes annoyed with him, and due to her quick temper she breaks the moonstone and yells at Terrence. Tinkerbell then learns of a legend where she can be granted a wish if she finds a treasure far away. She sets off to find the treasure so she can wish the moonstone unbroken.
Tinkerbell is a CUNT the entire movie. I am not exaggerating here. She finally gets to near where the treasure is but doesn’t get a wish, and she breaks down and realizes that she’s been mean to everyone who has helped her along the way. At that moment, Terrence shows up to save the day, and they go back to Pixie Hollow and Terrence’s math skills make the shattered moonstone burn brightly and Tinkerbell is a hero. (My apologies for not beginning this paragraph with a spoiler alert.)
There is no lesson to be learned by this story other than, “No matter how much of a bitch you are, your beta male friends will always be there for you exactly when you need them.” There’s also a message about taking the shortcuts instead of owning up to your mistakes, which is also not an ideal to that I’d like to teach my daughter.
There are movies geared towards girls that I haven’t minded, so I am certainly not saying all girl movies are like this, but there is a disturbing trend among many of them. Brave was a story about a girl’s relationship with her mother. Men were involved but they weren’t the bad guys. While many people didn’t much care for that movie, it does show that having a strong female protagonist does not mean that feminism also has to accompany her.
When I was a kid, for every Rainbow Bright movie, there was a Transformers movie it seemed. But look at the box office numbers for Frozen. What’s the male equivalent of that? I’m not sure. Many summer blockbusters are certainly made for teenage boys, but for pre-teens, I’m not sure.
One of the biggest tragedies of this trend was Wreck-It Ralph. What a fucking bait and switch that one was! Before it came out, it looked as if Wreck-It Ralph was a movie about video games, geared towards teenage and pre-teen boys. Sonic, Bowser, Zangief, and others made appearances in the trailer. I was looking so forward to seeing it. And when it came out, what did I get? A movie about a misunderstood male villian who helps a misunderstood young female hero in a game world tailor made for young girls. Since 80% of that movie takes place in the girly cute candy world, it’s very hard for boys to relate, and even worse that they take a retro theme from many childhoods and then basically abandon it to appease girls. I honestly believe that Disney thought that they would get the young boys in to see Wreck-It Ralph and that they would tell their sisters about it, so that Disney could be assured of repeat viewings via word of mouth.
As I’ve been typing this I’m on an airplane without Internet access, I’ve been racking my brain trying to name a recent animated kids movie aimed solely at boys. I’m not coming up with one. But those aimed at girls? Many more. And of course there are plenty that are just aimed at kids in general, which is great. It’s just that on one side of the dividing line between girl and boy movies, we’ve got plenty of movies for girls. On the other side, I think we’ve got nothing, or at least very, very little for aimed squarely at boys. Nothing recent anyway.
And this trend reflects where both the money is to be made, and one area where our society neglects boys starting from a very early age. Hell, in many guy-oriented movies with a male protagonist aimed at adults, there’s usually the theme that the man is on a mission to protect/save his family/girlfriend/the world. There are countless examples. In “Wicked” the Wicked Witch of the West wants to let animals keep speaking and expose The Wizard of Oz as a fraud, and in Maleficent, Maleficent just wanted revenge against a guy who was a dick to her. There is no “greater good” being fought in these media. The “Man Goes On A Mission To Save My Family/My Country” theme appeals to men. The “I’m Going To Get Revenge On That Jerk” theme appeals to women. Yet more evidence that men are the more romantic, idealistic sex, even though we also like movies heavy on the boobies and explosions.
Not one female dies in Malificient (though one gets sick, we don’t know if she actually perishes, and if she does and I missed it, it all happened offscreen because the evil king didn’t even care about his wife). At least two males die, and both due to violence. And isn’t it weird that with both Wicked and Malificient that they’re different takes on stories where females were the villains? But then you watch these movies/plays and find out you’ve been lied to all along, and that you don’t know the whole story. The whole story being there are no evil women, no matter how evil they ever appeared in their previous movies. The evil they appeared to do was for a good reason.
One of the trailers before Malificient was merely a 3D-slipper, as in Cinderella, with the text “2015” next to it. So there may be a Cinderella retelling and a Snow White retelling and why not? After all, these films will make the Patriarchy hundreds of millions of dollars and people will likely flock to them, because grrl power.
I’m just waiting for someone ballsy in Hollywood to make a movie about The Holocaust that shows how Hitler was really a good guy that was just misunderstood. And if they do make that movie, you can bet women will line up in droves to see it.